Alexander Agricola was a composer of great celebrity living at the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th. Cretin’s lament on the death of Ockeghem mentions Agricola as a fellow pupil in the school of that master; and the dates of his published works, together with an interesting epitaph printed in a collection of motets published at Wittenberg in 1538, furnish us with materials for briefly sketching his life. The words of the epitaph, which bears the title ‘Epitaphium Alex. Agricole Symphoniastae regis Castiliae Philipi,’ are as follows:
Musica quid defles? Periit mea cura decusque.
Estne Alexander? Is meus Agricola.
Dic age qualis erat? Clarus vocum manuumque.
Quis locus hune rapuit? Valdoletanus ager.
Quis Belgam huc traxit? Magnus rex ipse Philippus.
Quo morbo interiit? Febre furente obiit.
Aetas quae fuerat? Jam sexagesimus annus.
Sol ubi tunc stabat? Virginio in capite.
The question ‘Who brought the Belgian hither!’ is decisive as to his nationality. He was certainly educated in the Netherlands, and passed a great part of his life there.
At an early age he was distinguished both as a singer and performer. A letter of Charles VIII. of France, in Mr. Julian Marshall’s collection, proves that he was in that king’s service, and left it, without leave, for that of Lorenzo de’ Medici; he was at Milan till June 1474, and after some years in the service of the Duke of Mantua, entered (about 1491) that of Philip, Duke of Austria and sovereign of the Netherlands, and followed him to Castile in 1505. There Agricola remained until his death, at the ago of 60 (about the years 1506), of acute fever, in the territory of Valladolid.
Amongst Agricola’s known works the most important are a motet for three voices in the collection called ‘Harmonice Musices’ (1501), two motets for three voices in that entitled ‘Motetti XXXIII’ (Venice, Petrucci, 1502); eight four part songs from the collection ‘Canti cento cinquanta’ (VEnice, Petrucci, 1503); and a volume of five masses ‘Misse Alex. Agricolae’ (Venice, Petrucci, 1504). It is not improbable that a large number of his compositions may still be contained in the libraries of Spain.